Asleep at the wheel: how the European Commission’s impact assessment practices neglect research and education

The needs of Europe’s researchers, educators and learners are too often disregarded when the European Union is planning new laws and regulations, as underlined in a report released today by Knowledge Rights 21 today.

It is widely recognised that impact assessment is a necessary part of any effort to improve the quality of law-making. Such a process can help both identify unintended consequences of new laws early, as well as provide an opportunity to explore the evidence around different options fully.

The European Commission has played a leading role in promoting this internationally, as well as in developing guidelines for its own practice, including guidelines and a toolbox.

However, while issues such as competitiveness, the environment, equality and human rights are well-covered in this work (something that is certainly welcome!), the same cannot be said for the needs of researchers and research institutions.

This is a serious issue, with many high-profile pieces of legislation, especially concerning digital issues, having implications for research. A failure to take account of the needs of the sector risks adding costs and uncertainties, restricting collaborations, and broadly having a chilling effect on scientific progress.

Knowledge Rights 21 has analysed the impact assessment reports for a series of recent flagship legislative proposals in order to gauge how well they take account of the research sector. From this work, it is clear that too often, there is little or no reflection of Europe’s scientific performance and educational potential when laws are being made.

In effect, Europe is too often asleep at the wheel, with the official guidance in particular not providing strong enough guarantees that there will be consideration of the impacts on research and education of new legislation.

Read the report HERE.

In addition to the report, we are happy to join with partner organisations in issuing an open letter to the Secretary-General of the European Commission, underlining the need to:

  • review the European Union’s Innovation Principle to ensure it reflects the importance of public sector research and education; and,
  • update the Commission’s Better Regulation Toolkit and all other relevant guidance for impact assessment in order to take better account of the needs and interests of higher education and research as well as ensure the protection of academic freedom.

We look forward to immediate action to correct this weakness, and ensure that the European Union does not, again, stumble into laws that damage Europe’s research sector.


31 January 2024